If you've been holding off on buying a new computer, Microsoft Windows 7 will be a good excuse to get back into the game. And if you've been weighing a Mac versus a Windows PC, then you should know that "7" pushes the scales on the Windows side.
But should you upgrade your aging computer, even if you're running Windows XP? And should you use the occasion to buy a new PC? Those are certain to be the questions on the minds of millions, and it's the main topic we tackle this installment of Tech Tuesday.
After the upgrade debate we'll look at power issues in Macintosh computers and potential problems with the Foxnews.com Web site.
Upgrade to 7, or not to 7? That is the question
Q: Should I upgrade to Windows 7? My Windows system at home has been getting sluggish, and all the reviews I've read say that the new operating system solves all the problems created by Vista. I'm still hesitant, however. Should I take the plunge?
A: So you're running Windows Vista? You're in luck, upgrading can be straightforward. Windows XP will users need to offload their precious data before installing the new OS, meaning a new PC may be the easiest upgrade.
As for your current system, the first question to address is whether your current hardware will support Windows 7 — whether you can upgrade your PC. The minimum requirements, according to Microsoft, are a processor that's 1 GHz or faster, at least 1GB of RAM, 16GB of free disk space (20 if you’re going to run the 64-bit version), and a DirectX 9 graphics card. What does that all mean, you ask? You need the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.
As the name implies, this software tool will determine whether your hardware is compatible with Win 7. It even nags you to plug in all of your external devices and make sure they are turned on, so it can do a thorough analysis.
The upgrade advisor wouldn’t run to completion on Hukey Pukey, the venerable old laptop on which I write this column, however. That's not a good omen, is it?
I received a better answer from a visit to HP's website. After keying in the model number, I found buried among the technical specs, XP drivers, and frequently asked questions a link with “Information about Windows 7 software and drivers.” That's when I read the bad news:
“Notebook PCs that are not listed in the following table will not be supported by HP with Windows 7. HP does not plan to release Windows 7 drivers or software for notebook models that are not listed in the following table.”
My model wasn't listed in the table, of course. But your mileage may vary, slightly less in California. Check with your manufacturer to find out about your particular PC.
The second question to address is whether your applications are compatible. For example, I use QuickBooks Pro to cook my books (don't tell the IRS). It’s listed as compatible from the 2007 version on. Mine is (ahem) a wee bit older than that, so it won’t run — even if my hardware were supported.
The good news is that Microsoft learned from the software compatibility debacle that was Vista, and is offering “Windows XP Mode,” a software tool that lets you run older programs within the new operating system. My ancient copy of QuickBooks will work! But wait, the fine print reads, “… requires an additional 1GB of RAM, an additional 15GB of available hard disk space, and a processor capable of hardware virtualization with Intel VT or AMD-V turned on.”
Googling technical specifications for the T2500 chip that powers my rig, I find that Intel Virtual Technology is supported on this chip. It will work!
If I just had those drivers from HP.
The final question to address is a little more objective, and it's the topic of current Apple commercials. If you're running Windows XP, there's no clear upgrade path to Windows 7. Should you consider buying a new PC, potentially a Macintosh computer? Price will probably be your biggest consideration: A Windows 7 upgrade disc costs between $120 and $220, depending on which version you choose. A new PC will run you $500 or more, while those fancy all-in-one Macs start at $1,200. In the end, the biggest factor may be the size of your wallet.
Electronics 101: It Always Works Better When You Plug It In
Q: I have an iMac, about a year old. It was working great until yesterday. It started randomly shutting down. Each time I was able to power it back up and continue. This morning, nothing. No lights, no sounds, nothing to indicate it’s running at all. I’ve tried plugging in to different outlets to no avail. Can you help?
A: We’ll assume that the power cord is good. No visible cuts or crush marks along the cord, right? No dog bite marks or child bite marks?
Just kidding about the child part.
There’s a couple of simple things you can do to solve power gremlins. There are no magic bullets, however. No solution works all the time, just often enough that they’re worth trying before you pack it up and schlep it down to the Apple Store.
Most recent Macs have a small circuit called the SMC, or System Management Controller. Or maybe it's Chip — I never can remember what the “C” stands for. The procedure for clearing it varies from Mac to Mac, but for an iMac it’s really simple: First, power it down. Then, unplug all the cords — power, printer, network, keyboard, mouse, etc. — everything. Wait at least 15 seconds. Plug the power cord back in and press the on/off button.
To reset the SMC on other Apple computers, see the company's website.
The other thing to try is clearing the PRAM (I'm not even going to guess at the acronym). The worst of the lot is PCMCIA, which means “People Can’t Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms,” if I'm not mistaken — but I digress.
The procedure is the same for most Macs. With the power off, locate the Command and Option keys. You should use the ones on the left side of the keyboard. Also note where “P” and “R” are on the keyboard. Ready? OK, hit the power button, and before it displays the gray screen press and hold Control + Option + P + R. Hold 'em down until you get a second chime tone.
With luck, your iMac will fire right up. Otherwise, make an appointment with the Genius Bar.
Problems on the Fox News Web site?
Q: About three weeks ago, the web site quit updating automatically. Using IE8, the web site attempts to refresh but just gets into a loop — or the icon shows it is trying to refresh but never quite makes it. If I hit the refresh button it will refresh.
This happens on both of my computers, XP and Vista. I must then manually tell it to refresh instead of it automatically doing so. And the only site affected is Foxnews.com.
A: Everything you’ve described makes it sound like a Fox problem as opposed to a single computer problem. Happening on two different computers, two different operating systems. Yet I am assured by my tech contact at Foxnews.com that no significant change has taken place which would prevent an update.
I want you try a couple of things. I’m looking for things that your two systems have in common, which is causing both to fail in the same way.
The first is your malware solution. Presumably, you have one that protects up to three systems on the same license, or some such. Try disabling it on one of your systems. Just for a few minutes! See if the page starts refreshing with anti-virus turned off.
The other thing to look at would be a network issue. Content is passing through the same router to get to both machines on your network. It could be that one of the systems outside of Fox News (a server which sends advertising, for example) is having a routing issue. The easiest way to test this is to visit Foxnews.com from a computer outside your home network. If the page update happens, it’s not the website.
Another way of testing this is to power-cycle the router in your home. This resets its DNS cache and forces it to do an honest-to-goodness DNS lookup for all subsequent sites you visit. We certainly don’t want you to have issues with our website! Try the above suggestions and let us know if any of them worked.
Got questions about computers and technology? Sent them to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we’ll answer selected ones in our next installment.
We regret that we can’t answer questions individually. Neither FoxNews.com nor its writers and editors assume any liability for the effectiveness of the solutions presented here.